Cyberbullying has some staggering statistics: 52% of young people surveyed reported having been the victims of an online bully, and the numbers for hate speech, embarrassing photos taken without the victim’s knowledge, and victims who do not report it to their parents are equally disheartening. Unfortunately, 95% of teens who’ve witnessed cyberbullying of others do not report it, with many citing fear of becoming the aggressor’s next victim as the reason.
Even worse is the correlation between being a victim of cyberbullying and suicide, especially among teens but even among students as young as ten or eleven years old. One 2012 case that made national headlines and sparked a renewed interest in putting a stop to bullying involved the suicide of a seven-year-old child.
But there’s a new tool in the internet toolbox aimed at stopping cyberbullying by addressing what’s often behind it, which is the impulsive remarks made online. ReThink works by flagging content that contains “hot button” keywords and offers the person posting it the chance to rethink their comments before posting. How effective is it? Early test research showed that adolescents who were given a pop-up warning that their words could be construed as cyberbullying changed their minds in 93% of the cases.
This software isn’t entirely new; after all, its then-13-year-old creator, Trisha Prabhu, was recognized for this masterpiece in the Google Science Fair in 2014. It has since been featured in everything from Huffington Post and Business Insider to a 2015 Super Bowl commercial on making the internet a better place for all users. The young creator displayed the software at the White House Science Fair, has given Ted Talks on cyberbullying, and has even spoken out about her own personal experiences with this rampant issue.
So how good is this software? Pretty good, according to one tester, Emily Matchar, who tried it out for her article for Smithsonian. “To test how it works, I downloaded ReThink to my iPhone. I started to post ‘I hate you’ to a Facebook wall (with no intentions, of course, of actually posting it), and a ReThink bubble popped up. ‘Let’s change these words to make it positive,’ it suggested. ‘You’re a fat,’ I began, and I was interrupted by ‘Don’t say things that you may regret later!’ ReThink has a high sensitivity for obscenities. When I started the missive with a four-letter word, the ReThink bubble showed up to ask ‘Are these words really you?’”
While it can’t catch everything a user might write, as Matchar demonstrated, it can go a long way towards halting the off-the-cuff nastiness that online trolls thrive on. The recent response to broader adoption of ReThink has led to schools, social workers, and other advocates requesting it in their locations, but has also led to an increase in adults opening up about cyberbullying at any age.